The Lovely Bones (2009)

Director: Peter Jackson

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

Novel: Alice Sebold

Though the Godfather and its sequel are widely considered to be two of the greatest achievements in cinematic history, director Francis Ford Coppola had reluctantly stepped into the role of being a studio director.  Coppola was drawn to smaller, more European influenced fare, yearning to make films that were heavy with arthouse sensibilities.  As fate would have it however, he was plucked out to do the work of a studio director.  Now in his later years, Coppola still hasn’t given up on that goal of being an arthouse director, funding his own works like Youth Without Youth and Tetro and receiving luke-warm receptions in the process for his efforts.

Much of the same can be said for Peter Jackson.  After conquering the box-office and the Academy Awards with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson went full out once more for the disappointing 2005 remake of King Kong.  Now in his first feature film since Kong, he attempts something more human and dare I say, more sensitive than his previous works by adapting Alice Sebold’s hit novel, The Lovely Bones.

The Lovely Bones is the story of 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), who is lured to her death by her psychopathic neighbour (portrayed brilliantly by Stanley Tucci).  The story then goes on to observe the conflict between Susie’s family as they grieve for their missing daughter/sister and Susie dancing around in some sort of CGI bloated purgatory as she observes her family and their subsequent collapse.

I should say that the synopsis of this film is far more interesting than the film itself. There is very little substance to this mawkish exercise in banality and what little tension can be gained from the story is squandered by Jackson in favour of creating nonsensical worlds of CGI for Susie Salmon to dance through.  Had Jackson actually utilized Salmon’s character to further the plot, things could have been interesting.  Instead, things just happen without explanation, relying heavily on the audience to simply accept that what they are seeing is “magical”.  Susan Sarandon is wasted as Susie’s grandmother, a character who serves no purpose and whose arrival in the Salmon household after Susie’s murder provides a particularly cringe worthy and pointless montage.

Indeed, the sole bright point of this film is Stanley Tucci, whose entire demeanor stirs a virulent hate in the viewer.  Subtle yet entirely powerful, Tucci’s portrayal of George Harvey encapsulates the energy that The Lovely Bones should have been spurned on by.  Instead, we have a directionless mess of a film that offers no real insight into the themes and conflicts it claims to take on.

Stick to orcs and and elves, Peter.  Your directorial strength clearly doesn’t rest in the dramatic genre.

-mike

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